5 Times Scientists Were Very Wrong About New Discoveries, Because of Hope

[Music] the scientific method it’s what makes the world go round not literally but it’s how we understand the universe scientists are constantly developing and testing hypotheses which means lots of ideas especially seemingly revolutionary ones get debunked and go nowhere but scientists are human too so every once in a while some cling to early observations that they can do over and over and over but can’t be replicated by most of the scientific community so what gives it’s called pathological science it’s when researchers find patterns and experimental data where none actually exists or focus only on positive results they might be convinced that other scientists must be doing something wrong and even though the science is wrong it’s not the same as fraud these researchers aren’t trying to deceive people they’re just looking through a lens that keeps them from drawing objective conclusions so here are five ideas that scientists tried really hard to prove true that just did not pan out sketches of the Martian surface started happening basically as soon as telescopes were invented but for the first couple of centuries our tech was not good enough to see more than dark smudges or the white patches of the polar icecaps in 1877 astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observed and recorded long thin lines on Mars that he dubbed Canali which is italian for channels unfortunately this term was missed translated into English as canals like the famous Suez Canal that was completed in 1869 because scaparelli was a super distinguished astronomer his work got a lot of attention and all of this snow balled until the public and astronomers alike believed that these Canali were evidence of an intelligent Martian civilization the biggest proponent of this hypothesis was a fellow astronomer and Planet X Hunter Percival Lowell he even built an entire observatory in the Arizona desert to better observe Mars as he told it the Martian landscape had become inhospitable and the Martians had built the canals to bring water from the ice caps down to the equator he published three books in three decades on the subject and mapped almost 200 canals attributing his higher number to his better viewing conditions meanwhile the media ran with all this as fact one New York Times article from 1911 was titled Martians build two immense canals in two years because Lowell had found new lines Lowell wasn’t the only astronomer on the bandwagon one paper even proposed the canals were also for power storage on the windy surface of the planet there are plenty of dissenting voices too though some researchers suggested that they were actually meteorite tracks or giant fissures others proposed the lines were entirely fake just optical illusions and yeah they were right more experiments showed that when looking at dark dot like smudges the human brain tends to connect them with straight lines our brains just really want to see patterns not to mention there was probably a lot of unconscious bias and believing skia Pirellis initial observations that the Canali did exist even if they weren’t made by aliens the 1960s brought the final nail in the coffin the Mariner mission gave us close-up photographs of our next-door neighbor and there was not a canal in sight and Mars turned out to have a lot of other super cool features Psalm all right with that optical illusions actually also responsible for our next scientific flub in 1903 physicist rene blonde lo announced the discovery of a new type of radiation while experimenting with x-rays during his tests he shot x-rays through a quartz prism which was known not to deflect x-rays out of the corner of his eye blood lo saw an electric arc flash as if some radiation had been bent so he concluded that a new type of radiation must be responsible for what he saw following the nomenclature of x-rays which had been discovered less than 10 years earlier blonde bloke called his discovery n rays the N was in honor of his home university in nazi france suture experiments detecting these rays involved a phosphorescent screen which would emit light when struck by photons from things like x-rays or a guess n rays and blood Lowe took pictures that seemed to show and rays actually making spots brighter blond lows advice to other researchers attempting to replicate his work was to shut themselves in the darkroom for half an hour before the data collection and watched the screen out of the of their I not straight on he noticed that it required a certain amount of practice to detect n ray flashes because they were super faint and other scientists totally backed him up in the next three years over a hundred mostly French scientists published three hundred articles about n rays they made claims about what kinds of objects emitted them in their properties like they could be stored in rocks alter refracted into a spectrum of different wavelengths by aluminium prisms believed an N Ray’s wasn’t outlandish since a lot of other types of radiation and particles were being found too and blood low had used visual observation and other reputable research on the properties of x-rays and radio waves so his technique didn’t seem too sketchy but plenty of scientists couldn’t replicate blond blows and Ray experiments they criticized his photographic evidence they suggested that it was actually caused by non-uniform photo development practices or poorly controlled exposure times the beginning of the end for n rays was in 1904 when American physicist Robert Wood visited blond lows lab to observe some experiments and secretly conduct some of his own for instance when the room was dark he removed an aluminum prism that was supposed to be refracting the N Ray’s and what do you know blond lows measurements of the N Ray’s were unchanged so the spots of light were just being imagined by some overworked in biased brains and woods reported these failed demonstrations was published in the journal Nature that same year sealing their fate that seems like kind of a mean thing to do but it’s science had to do the experiment scientists have discovered a lot of weird forms of water ice that existed extreme temperatures and pressures so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there was a purported discovery of a weird form of liquid water in the 1960s called poly water short for polymerized water it was denser and more viscous than regular water it didn’t freeze at zero degrees Celsius or boil at a hundred plus it would turn into a glass like substance at about negative 34 Holly water first appeared when Soviet scientists were experimenting with condensing water vapor inside super thin quartz tubes like less than a millimeter in diameter on the inside supposedly the tubes were clean and the water vapor didn’t have any contaminants so the researchers included that under these conditions the molecules formed a brand-new structure once their discovery hit international circles in 1966 scientists rushed to make up for lost research time and because it was just water not some fancy-schmancy chemical it entered the public consciousness – there were fears that it could escape labs and get into natural water systems and turned the whole world’s water supplies into poly water and just a couple of years both the US and the UK had scientists successfully replicating the Soviet experiments and making this mysterious substance one scientist even managed to extract a whole gram of poly water yeah a gram that was considered a lot and the papers kept coming with nearly a hundred in 1970 alone one paper studied poly water using spectroscopy the different light wavelengths it reflected or absorbed and how much it absorbed the poly waters infrared absorption spectrum didn’t match any of the nearly 100 thousand substances in the researchers database so they jumped the conclusion that it had to be a brand new thing they even used their data to predict the structure of poly water a honeycomb and they suggested that the quartz somehow catalyzed a reaction so the water molecules were locked in place by stronger chemical bonds than what normally holds liquid water together their experiment data by the way was accurate it really didn’t match anything in their database but a more skeptical scientific approach would have considered other possibilities now there were plenty of scientists arguing that this was all caused by impurities in the water that researchers weren’t catching in fact the original 1962 paper written in Russian mentioned a possible sodium contamination and upon further spectroscopy tests poly water was shown to have sodium calcium potassium and chlorine and you know what else has that combination of elements human sweat it turned out that poly water’s absorption spectrum was virtually identical to that of sweat so that’s what was causing these weird properties tiny amounts of perspiration must have gotten into the test chambers in all of these experiments these findings were published in 1971 and arguments for poly water died not long after but pathological science wasn’t done with water in 1988 the journal Nature published a paper claiming that an incredibly diluted solution retained a memory of what was originally dissolved in it the French immunologist as Jacques benveniste detest that was normally used to determine if people were allergic to certain things basically when allergens interact with special white blood cells the cells release compounds like histamine that caused the itchy sniffy symptoms of asthma and hay fever and for this test benefit East used a solution full of antibodies that would trigger the same cellular responses allergens but when he diluted the solution so much that there probably wasn’t a single antibody left some of the white blood cells still appeared to react to it he concluded the water must have held the memory of the antibodies somehow a lot of scientists as well as nature’s editor were wary of publishing these results but while benveniste work defied everything we knew about chemistry it couldn’t be outright dismissed by peer reviewers it was even a possible explanation because the bonds between liquid water molecules form and break super quickly like within a trillionth of a second maybe clusters could form with specific shapes or behaviors because of our good friend the scientific method others had to be able to replicate benveniste the paper was published with an editorial caveat that a team would be sent to benveniste lab for a follow-up and they did just that supervising his team to make sure unconscious biases weren’t affecting the results of the new experiment they went through an almost ridiculously complicated series of steps to keep the study blind like they used codes for the vials of pure water and very diluted water wrapped them in foil so the scientists couldn’t see the labels and hidden the key for the codes in the ceiling in the end the vials that benveniste team decided had a memory of dissolved antibodies were a random mix and of course that wasn’t the only replication attempt some people still claim to observe the effects of water memory especially to support homeopathy but there have always been a far more studies contradicting that than supporting it finally we come to what might be the best example of pathological science cold fusion basically it’s the idea of a sustained nuclear reaction that can happen near room temperature as opposed to the 15 million degrees you find at the center of the Sun if scientists were able to prove cold fusion exists it would basically be a revolution in energy and also everything else so it kind of makes sense why people were so dedicated even after the general scientific community concluded it was too good to be true the first experiments were conducted in the late 1980s and they involved placing two palladium metal electrodes in heavy water which is when some of the molecules hydrogen atoms have an extra Neutron and then they ran an electric current from one electrode to the other that caused the water molecules to break apart and those special hydrogens known as deuterium atoms got absorbed into the palladium metal theoretically the metal then acts as a catalyst and it helps the deuterium atoms fuse together without blazing hot temperatures and supposedly scientists could tell the deuterium fusion was happening in a couple of ways they could measure the heat produced from the nuclear reaction or look at byproducts like helium or another version of hydrogen called tritium and yes many a scientific paper reported observing one or more of these byproducts but the amounts reported did not jive with our understanding of how fusion works in the very first cold fusion experiment the amount of heat measured meant that there should have been so much gamma radiation emitted that the researchers would have died or at least turned into giant green rage monster x’ and just like all other cases of pathological science attempts to replicate these results failed experiments were only able to measure excess heat 70% of the time at best plus it could take days to weeks before that heat appeared and it was never the same amount of energy many papers claiming to confirm the results ended up getting retracted and those that didn’t were reporting measurements that could be explained by other chemical differences for all practical purposes the hubbub of cold fusion ended a mere five weeks after the first announcement was made exciting year 1989 but later there were a few other phenomena related to cold fusion that were previously thought to be impossible but were shown to be real so hope remained even today there are some researchers convinced that it’s a thing they call it by other names though like low energy nuclear reactions the cold fusion is almost definitely not going to provide the earth with a new cheap infinitely abundant energy source sorry for the bad news but maybe if we like just bombard it with some n rays thanks for watching this episode of scishow and a super special thanks to our president of space SR Foxley thank you for helping us do we do if you want to see more episodes just like this head on over to youtube.com/scishow to subscribe [Music]

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